Following the new year (and the traditional drawn out string of chaos surrounding the holidays in general), 2016 rolled in like a strong storm, rushing in a deep need for change within myself.  I felt an intense urge to refocus my daily routines and decide who I wanted to be at this point in my life journey. I had spent the past 5 years pregnant, on bedrest, and caring for my two young children, one of whom was dealt a string of health problems at birth that left my husband and me with several new grey hairs!  My babies were growing into amazing little people, and I reached a point where it was time to take back my body.  More than anything, I needed to feel strong.  I wanted to be an example for my children that both Dad AND Mom could be their superhero when needed.

I wanted to be an example for my children that both Dad AND Mom could be their superhero when needed.

One night, following a nightmarish month of illnesses spread throughout our household, something kicked in high gear.  I desperately wanted something to look forward to….a goal to focus on.  This couldn’t be any simple goal.  It had to be something hard, something not just anyone would do and something I would be proud of in the end.  That’s when I stumbled upon a link to the Memorial Day Run & March coordinated by Colorado Veterans Project.  The idea of rucking at that event was instantly intriguing.  I live in a small mountain town, and much of my time is spent hiking and backpacking, so why not take it up a notch?  Why not take something I already enjoy tremendously and see what my limits are within it?

Why not take something I already enjoy tremendously and see what my limits are within it?

The Memorial Day Run & March is an annual event that brings together civilians, veterans, and uniformed military for your choice of a 5K run, a 10K run, or a 30K Norwegian Ruck March.  As a civilian, I loved the idea of taking part in this unique opportunity to see what I was made of alongside members of the military.  I also have several generations of veterans in my own family, which made the mission of the Colorado Veterans Project personally very exciting to be a part of.  Food donations are taken in through this event, and ruckers are required to carry 25 lbs. of it on their backs for 30K before handing it over.

As a civilian, I loved the idea of taking part in this unique opportunity to see what I was made of alongside members of the military.

I will admit that I was intimidated by the thought of this challenge, but I needed something like that to force me back into shape.  Having a goal to reach for can turn a monotonous workout routine into training.  It was a way to hold me accountable.  I knew if I slacked off, I would pay for it when May rolled around.  While my daughter napped, I would strap on a weighted pack and time laps around my property.  My son would hang out of the basement window and cheer me on as I passed him.  He eventually got inspired and began wearing his backpack while doing laps around our living room before dinner.  He shouted, “I’m rucking Mom!  I gotta keep going!  See you later!”

Having a goal to reach for can turn a monotonous workout routine into training.  It was a way to hold me accountable.

Before long I began seeing real changes in how I looked, and more importantly, how I felt.  I had gone on several practice rucks, and I was ready for the big day.  My husband and I are constantly pushing each other to be our best and competing in the outdoors, so naturally he was right by my side the morning of the race.  We both had butterflies in our stomachs, but that all changed once everyone began crowding around the starting line.  We were taken in by a wave of focus moving through the racers standing shoulder to shoulder that Memorial Day morning.  We had all gathered there on a significant day to test ourselves and show support for the military family.

Before long I began seeing real changes in how I looked, and more importantly, how I felt.

We could feel an intense energy passing from one person to the next as we all took off.  Uniformed military had to finish within an allotted time, and people were flying through the crowds to make it to the finish.  About half way through, the swarm had thinned and participants were very spread out.  As I needed to slow my pace for breaks from time to time, I took that opportunity to chat with fellow participants.  It was beautiful to see such a wide variety of people coming together in support of our veterans and to hear their stories as to what brought them there that day.  Strangers were stopping to help each other as heat, fatigue, and the dreaded blisters set in.  Sweaty and tired, I just told myself to focus on forward.  That’s all I had to do.  Of course, to keep up with my husband’s long stride I had to get creative.  On all the downhills, I would shuffle as fast as I could to gain some ground without straining my body.  Then I would gradually lose him for a bit until I found a new spirt of energy to catch back up.  He kept me on pace, and I appreciated that.  We had a goal time to keep!  Together.

It was beautiful to see such a wide variety of people coming together in support of our veterans and to hear their stories as to what brought them there that day.  Strangers were stopping to help each other as heat, fatigue, and the dreaded blisters set in.  Sweaty and tired, I just told myself to focus on forward.  That’s all I had to do.

As we arrived at the finish line (definitely not first, but under our goal), we both experienced an amazing feeling of accomplishment.  Bodies were sprawled out along the sidelines trying to rebound from what we had all just done.  One of my favorite moments from that day was seeing uniformed military take a moment to sit up and clap for us as we crossed the line.  That felt big.  Everyone came to this event with a slightly different objective in mind.  I was there to be a little better at the finish than I was when I started; to feel like that superhero to my kids.  And I came away with so much more than that.  The rest of our summer was filled with loads of backpacking trips, a hike up Mt Bierstadt, and our very first Spartan obstacle race.  Every time we got back home, my husband and I always laughed and said, “The ruck march was harder.”

One of my favorite moments from that day was seeing uniformed military take a moment to sit up and clap for us as we crossed the line.  That felt big.

We would love to hear your inspiring stories.  If you have something to share about a past event with the Memorial Day Run & March, or if you are currently using it as motivation to better yourself as a future participant, please contact me at kathryn@coloradoveteransproject.org, or leave a comment below!  We’d love to hear from you!